Irish police 'need warrant to search dissident suspects'
Police in the Republic have no right to search suspected dissident republicans without a search warrant, the Special Criminal Court in Dublin has said.
It threw out evidence gathered from a man suspected of smuggling out dissident IRA messages from Portlaoise prison (below right) - because gardai did not seek permission to search his car.
In a decision that could lead to a flood of appeals by dissident republicans, the Special Criminal Court warned that gardai have shown a "substantial, persistent and general incorrect assumption" about their powers to search people under the Offences Against the State Act - anti-IRA legislation first introduced in 1939.
The court threw out evidence found in the car of Brian Kenna, a suspected dissident republican, after ruling that gardai did not obtain permission for the search.
Kenna was stopped outside Portlaoise prison after allegedly smuggling out a communiqué from the alleged "officer commanding" of one republican group in the prison.
Gardai told the court the communiqué was intended for other dissident IRA leaders north of the border. It described how the officer commanding in the prison had debriefed three other republicans who had been arrested on weapons charges.
The officer commanding, who signs off as 'OC', says in the communiqué he is satisfied that the three men had not revealed any information while in garda custody.
The communiqué, written on cigarette papers, allegedly fell from Kenna's pockets when he was searched.
He also had signed Christmas cards in his hands from dissident prisoners that had been printed by the Irish Republican Prisoners Welfare Association.
Ronan Kennedy, the prosecution counsel, said Kenna was a member of the group.
The court said this material was lawfully seized from Kenna but that all the material found in the car could not be admitted into evidence - including the contents of McKenna's wallet and two pairs of pants.
Justice Tony Hunt said the three-judge court respectfully disagreed with Detective Sergeant Padraig Boyce of the special detective unit, who told the court that the lack of permission to search the car was simply a technical violation of the Offences Against the State Act. This section allows officers to search suspects without a warrant or permission from a higher ranking garda.
"The court cannot ignore a substantial, persistent and general incorrect assumption as to the nature and content of the provisions in question," Justice Hunt ruled.
Justice Hunt warned that the state cannot hide behind "an unacceptable lack of knowledge", particularly in the circumstances of the Kenna case, where gardai had mounted "a pre-planned operation against a particular person in a particular place", yet did not seek the correct permission to carry out a car search, even though they believed that Kenna's car was being used for IRA activity.
The judge said the mistake was not "of momentary nature" and was not "a minor detail or because of stress or pressure of the moment".